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article imageOp-Ed: Paper or Plastic? If the Answer is Plastic it Will Cost You

By Sandy Sand     May 22, 2009 in Environment
Paper or plastic seems like an old question, but actually it’s only a couple of decades old, and if California state legislators get their way the question will be “paper or do you want to pay a quarter for each plastic bag?”
Rather than a outright ban of the offensive landfill-clogging, ocean-pollution, marine life-choking-strangling plastic toters, two competing bills -- destined to be combined into one -- will mandate retailers charge 25-cents for every plastic bag that walks out the door filled with goodies.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just ban the damn things than to force stores to charge for the bags, creating additional bookkeeping?
In an editorial in today’s Los Angeles Daily News, the editorial board believes that charging customers, who haven’t schlepped in their own cloth bags, is a far better way to encourage people to give up their plastic bag habit and begin using cloth totes.
San Francisco, Palo Alto and Manhattan Beach have already banned plastic bags, but the DN editorial board doesn’t think that’s the way to fix the problem. They believe gentle encouragement by charging for each plastic bag is the way to go.
I don’t see anything wrong with outright banning plastic bags, but if the idea is to discourage plastic bag use, why not charge 50-cents or a dollar for each polluting plastic bag?
They could tax them into extinction just as they have cigarettes and other tobacco products, which have now gone underground into the black hole of black marketing.
Additionally, some people just can’t be persuaded to not toss the bag into the street even though there’s a trash can outside the store’s door.
The state legislature is also thinking about placing a charge on paper bags, something I totally don’t understand…but more about that later.
People are slobs and far too many of us carelessly chuck the plastic offenders rather than recycle or reuse them, and toss them upon leaving the store; they waft into the street, find their way into gutters, go down the sewer water runoff drains and eventually find their way into the Pacific Ocean.
The problem is so bad that ocean currents have carried an obscene amount of our garbage into the middle of the Pacific creating an “oceanfill” island of man-made crap that’s killing marine life at an astonishing rate.
On its way to the mid-Pacific much of it lingers along the southern California Coast and is proven by the fact that:
Few people think about where the bags go until they take a dive under a wave at Zuma Beach and hit a gross, slimy, flimsy plastic bag.
Therefore, it’s no small wonder that:
Los Angeles County received the worst overall beach water quality last year in California, according to the 19th annual “Beach Report Card” compiled by Heal the Bay.
Paper over plastic
Given a choice, I will always take paper over plastic. I love paper bags, especially the ones with handles.
According to a friend, if her great grandmother had a choice she, too, would have opted for a paper bag with handles, but at that time paper was her only choice. She used the handled bags that department stores sent their customers home with packed with their purchases.
My friend’s family lore talks of how she could take one bag and fill it with enough stuff to tide her over on a week’s visit to one of her three children, and gifts for the grandkids.
No one in the family could figure out how she did it, but she did, and she used the same bag over and over until it was hopeless. Only then did she trash it, and back in the day, there was no recycling. If she were alive today, she’d make one hell of a recycling expert, but then…that’s what being a Depression Era person makes you…a waste not’er, want not’er.
Plastic bags might be cheap for grocery stores to purchase, but they’ve always been the worst way to bring home the bacon and the eggs and the milk and everything else.
The don’t stand up by themselves as paper bags do, so the minute they’re put in the car they collapse and half the contents spills out and rolls all over the trunk or back of the car creating a cacophony of cans hitting each other with ever right or left turn.
The cans have even been known to create their own game of bowling for eggs, taking aim at the ones that spilled out of their Styrofoam cartons…another un-biodegradable item.
Plastic bags.
Plastic bags.
File photo
Plastic grocery bags also don’t pass the carry stress test. If the handles don’t break, they scrunch up creating a thin ribbon of plastic that can practically shear off an unsuspecting hand. If there’s a tiny rip in the bag or it’s extremely weak at the point where there’s a natural hole in the bag is left by the manufacturing process…the bottom or side rips open.
They’re hard to store and really hard to lay flat, squish out all the air and fold up. And like Topsy, the grow and grow and grow in number eventually taking up every available space in the kitchen and then the garage.
Heaven forbid today’s practical homemaker should throw them in the blue recycle bin…she might need one to line a waste basket where it will then get thrown in the trash, be buried in a landfill, where they are deprived of sunlight and air rendering them un-biodegradable.
Paper bags are far more reusable than plastic. They stand up on their own. They can be recycled. They make wonderful collectors for recyclables, and when they’re full, they can be thrown into the blue bin, contents and all.
Double one and it’s perfect for hauling a ton of books to the Friends of the Library for resale. Our green foliage collecting cans are so big -- 80 gallons big -- clunky and inconvenient to roll from place to place, therefore paper bags make wonderful, reusable, easy to tote weed stuffers to be walked over to the green can and dumped.
They’re easily foldable and storable; they’re not slippery or slidey and it’s easy to squish the air out of them so they lie flat just waiting to be reused, or as I do, pack them on-end into wastebaskets for easy grabbing.
Cloth totes are okay, but they have drawbacks. The only way to store them is to fold them up and stuff them all into the biggest bag. The large totes get very heavy, and hard to carry especially for older or unmuscled women.
What starts out as a tote quickly becomes a drag.
They’re also very forgettable. Even if you stock your car with them you forget to grab one and take it into the store, and after you’ve used up your car supply, you forget to restock it.
So, if it’s paper or plastic…make mine paper every time…that is, when I’m not toting a cloth tote.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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